Sorry for the lack of updates lately folks, life and study has taken over for a while, but I’ve got a couple of posts lined up for the next week or two. Today, however, I’d like to talk about word counts.
I get asked about word count a lot. Mostly people want to know ‘how long should a childrens book be?’ or ‘how long should a book be?’ etc. There is no straightforward answer to this. There are general guidelines, which I have listed below, but honestly, you book should be just as long as it needs to be in order to tell the story. There’s nothing I hate more in a book than padding. When the author has to fluff up their story to make a word count, something is going wrong.
Now, I get that certain publishers and imprints have set guidelines, and it should be noted that some genres have different expectations than others, but generally a well written story is more important than how big the book looks.
A good guide for book length is anywhere between 70 and 100k. There are exceptions, westerns, sci-fi and fantasy and family sagas can all run over, and it’s not uncommon for these genres to have word counts of 150k or longer. Westerns can also have much shorter word counts, novellas being very popular in this genre, these being around 20-50k.
YA (that’s Young Adult, for ages 12 and up) and MG (that’s Middle Grade, for ages 8-12 usually) is a slightly different beast. When I was a kid a YA novel was around 20k (about 100 pages). These days they range anywhere from 20k to 150k.
You just have to look at the shelves in your local book shop to see how children and teen fiction is changing, books are getting bigger.
Those of you who spent a month and lost your voice reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix to your kids at bedtime, probably aren’t suprised to know that TOOTP clocked in at a might7 257,045 words. (But no sweat, it’s only half as long as War and Peace.) Below are some word counts that might surprise
anyone familiar with the attention span of an average 10 year old
Philosopher’s Stone– 76,944 words
Chamber of Secrets – 85,141 words
Prisoner of Azkaban – 107,253 words
Goblet of Fire – 190,637 words
Order of the Phoenix – 257,045 words
Half-Blood Prince – 168,923 words
Deathly Hallows – 204,796 words
The point here is that kids clearly are not put off by long books. I remember seeing primary school children reading the later HP books, and while Harry Potter could be considered to be something of an anomoly, if you look at the word counts for more recent YA and MG books, there is a trend emerging:
Great and Terrible Beauty – 95,605
City of Bones – 130,949
Eragon – 157,000
Twilight – 115362
To name but a few
But there are short novels too, the amazing Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson was only 32,888 words.
That said, the current favourite book in our house, with adults and little ones alike, is Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, which has a mere 336 words, and needs not a single one more, or less.
So, in answer to that question of how long a book should be – it should be just as long as it needs to be.